Health

The Biden administration released its first set of drug policy priorities Thursday after overdose deaths hit record numbers during the pandemic. Office of National Drug Control Policy Acting Director Regina LaBelle discussed the office’s seven priorities, beginning with expanding access to drug treatment services. 

“We’ll do this by expanding access to quality treatment and medications for opioid use disorder,” LaBelle said. “This includes removing unnecessary barriers to buprenorphine prescribing and contingency management interventions, modernizing our methadone treatment, expanding access to evidence based treatment options for people who are incarcerated.”

The American Rescue Plan Act set aside $4 billion to broaden access to behavioral services under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Health Resources and Services Administration.  

Another top priority includes addressing racial inequities within addiction treatment. 

“So this includes developing a drug budget that reflects the needs of diverse communities, developing priorities for criminal justice reform and identifying culturally appropriate evidence based practices for Black, Indigenous and People of Color across the continuum of care,” LaBelle said. “And that continuum of care includes prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery services.”

From August 2019 to August 2020, more than 88,000 people died from drug overdoses, according to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. West Virginia and Kentucky both reported more overdose deaths than the national average. The Ohio Valley has long been the epicenter of the addiction crisis, and the isolation and stress of the pandemic appears to have worsened the overdose death rates. The overdose death rate increased 43% year-over-year in Kentucky, by 38% in West Virginia, and by 21% in Ohio. In the three states combined, 8,126 people died of overdoses from 2019 to 2020.

Corinne Boyer covers health issues from partner station WEKU in Richmond, KY. Previously, she covered western Kansas for the Kansas News Service at High Plains Public Radio, where she received two Kansas Association of Broadcasters awards for her reporting on immigrant communities. Before living on the High Plains, Corinne was a newspaper reporter in Oregon. She earned her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon and interned at KLCC, Eugene’s NPR affiliate. Corinne grew up near the South Carolina coast and is a graduate of the College of Charleston. She has also lived in New York City and South Korea.